Last updated on: 7/23/2018 | Author:

Is a Physician ever Obligated to Help a Patient Die?

PRO (yes)


Timothy E. Quill, MD, Professor of Palliative Care, Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester, in an Aug. 25, 2016 article, “Should Physicians Help Terminal Patients Die?,” available at, stated:

“It would be hard for me to construct addressing the suffering of a terminally ill patient as a harm. It is an obligation. The question is, how we can respond to those kinds of sufferings? Part of our job, in my opinion, is to help people die better. I say that in a direct way because it irks me when we say that doctors should not help people die. We need people who are committed to caring for people all the way through to their death as if they were family members, committed to relieving their suffering. Sometimes that requires helping people to die. It is not a happy day when we are taking people off life support. We do not like to do it. Sometimes we dream about it afterward. But we do it because we have to do it, because the patient is saying that they do not want it anymore. They have had it. We understand. We all talk about it. We make sense of it. We support each other.”

Aug. 25, 2016 - Timothy E. Quill, MD


Amir Attaran, LLB, DPhil, MS, Professor of Law and Medicine at the University of Ottawa, in a Nov. 13, 2015 article, “Doctors Can’t Refuse to Help a Patient Die–No Matter What They Say,” available at, stated

“I think the CMA’s [Canadian Medical Association] position is cowardly and stupid. If physicians are not duty-bound to assist patients with what the [Canadian] Court pointedly labeled “physician-assisted dying“, then who does the CMA think should be obliged to help — elves, maybe? And while it is great for doctors to provide information and options, that is but a small part of what society trains and licenses them to do.
Granted, some doctors conscientiously object to assisted dying — but if the situation arises, they cannot refuse to help their patients access what is now part of the legal standard of care.”

Nov. 13, 2015 - Amir Attaran, LLB, DPhil, MS


Rosamond Rhodes, PhD, Director of Bioethics Education at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, wrote in her chapter, “Physicians, Assisted Suicide, and the Right to Live or Die,” that appeared in the 1998 book Physician Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate:

“A doctor’s commitment to acting for patients’ good creates a clear obligation to help a patient avoid an agonizing, protracted death. Allowing a patient to suffer when the suffering could be ended is an obvious violation of the duty of beneficence…

Sometimes, because of special features of the need, or because of the special relationship, or because of the uniqueness of the knowledge involved, a physician may have a professional obligation to assist in a suicide or perform euthanasia.”

1998 - Rosamond Rhodes, PhD


Margaret Battin, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah, wrote in her chapter, “Is a Physician Ever Obligated to Help a Patient Die?” that appeared in the 1998 book Regulating How We Die: The Ethical, Medical, and Legal Issues Surrounding Physician-Assisted Suicide:

“It is my view that even the physician with the most profound moral scruples against physician-assisted suicide can, in certain circumstances, incur an obligation to provide this assistance… I hasten to add that I support the legal recognition of opt-out provisions… But that does not mean that a physician has no moral obligation to help, even if there is no legal one… Where the patient’s request really does originate in autonomy and in the claim to mercy, it does mean that the physician is obligated not to entrap the patient into compliance with the physician’s values rather than the patient’s own values.”

1998 - Margaret P. Battin, PhD

CON (no)


Death with Dignity, in an article, “How Death with Dignity Laws Work,: accessed on July 12, 2018, available at, stated:

“It is important to discuss your end-of-life wishes with your physician as early as possible. The benefit of doing this even if you are healthy is that if your physician does not share your values on this subject, you will have the chance to look for a willing physician while you still have the energy and time to do so… It is important to have this discussion [about physician-assisted suicide] with your physician in person. Do not ask their office staff, nurse, or assistant or leave a request on their voice mail. Above all, avoid demanding your physician’s assistance. Under death with dignity laws your physician is not required to participate and may have valid reasons for declining.”

July 12, 2018 - Death with Dignity National Center (DDNC)


The Canadian Medical Association, in an Oct. 2015 article, “Principles-Based Recommendations for a Canadian Approach to Assisted Dying,” available, stated:

“Physicians are not obligated to fulfill requests for assisted dying. There should be no discrimination against a physician who chooses not to participate in assisted dying. In order to reconcile physicians’ conscientious objection with a patient’s request for access to assisted dying, physicians are expected to provide the patient with complete information on all options available to them, including assisted dying, and advise the patient on how they can access any separate central information, counseling, and referral service.”

Oct. 2015 - Canadian Medical Association


Edmund Pellegrino, MD, Director of the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University, wrote in his chapter, “The False Promise of Beneficent Killing,” that appeared in the 1998 book Regulating How We Die: The Ethical, Medical, and Legal Issues Surrounding Physician-Assisted Suicide:

“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are not ethical obligations of physicians… The prohibition against physician participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide has been elemental in the traditional ethics of medicine for a long time… These acts [euthanasia and assisted suicide] are far from being established morally or accepted professionally.”

1998 - Edmund Pellegrino, MD


Stefan Bernard Baumrin, MD, JD, Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, wrote in his chapter, “Physician, Stay Thy Hand!” that appeared in the 1998 book Physician Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate:

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, requires that physicians be the instruments of suicide aid… The physician’s task is to tell the patient…what’s wrong, and to the best of the doctor’s ability, what is going to happen. The physician’s job is to heal the sick, to stave off death, and to say as best as he or she can what the future will be like for each particular patient. The physician gets to be the helpless person’s medical guide because he or she is trusted to hold the patient’s good uppermost, and the patient’s good does not include death.”

1998 - Stefan Bernard Baumrin, PhD, JD